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By Sarah Beth Costello
The grassy area in front of Mooney doubled as a hospital ward, battleground and
infirmary Tuesday morning as several academically gifted students enrolled in Elon University’s inaugural Formative Learning Experience program – “FLEX” for short – learned about first aid and took turns dramatizing emergency situations.
Meanwhile, a dozen students in an art class gathered outside Alamance to observe the environment and capture the landscape on canvases using impressionist techniques. Inside, students huddled over notebooks, writing plays based on favorite characters to perform in a reader’s theater class.
Fifty academically gifted students were selected to participate in the five-day FLEX Program, a summer learning opportunity that allows students from the third through 11th grades to be challenged, explore areas of interest and make new friends.
“We sent out information to Alamance-Burlington schools telling them about this one week experience for students identified as Academically or Intellectually Gifted (AIG) students,” said Judith Howard, director of the university’s Master’s of Education program.
The majority of children participating in FLEX are enrolled in Alamance-Burlington schools, though the program was not limited to local residents. Supervised by Howard and FLEX director Wendy Staskiewicz, the program provides internships for Elon’s graduate students who must complete an internship before receiving their degree.
“It seemed to fit work better to bring students to campus and allow the graduate students to plan all of this themselves,” said Howard.
The program’s schedule involves team-building exercises, where students participate in activities from designing t-shirts to playing the “knot game” and other team challenges. For two hours each morning, students join one of several educational and creative classes, including reader’s theater, reading discussion, the outdoors, science, digital storytelling and art.
“The learners bring so much to the program,” Staskiewicz said. “One young student was reading The DaVinci Code and talking about complex symbols in the painting during a FLEX art class. This is just one example of the advanced concepts about which students are already knowledgeable. They are coming in with so much. I don’t think schools always tap into that.”
Students in the reading discussion course wanted an opportunity to talk about their favorite books with other students and developed new characters for books such as the Harry Potter series. The outdoors class educates students on environmentally responsible camping and other outdoor activities, from packing a backpack to geocaching.
Students in the science class explore physics, learn about the orbiting space shuttle and chart the fall of a bouncing basketball. Those in the art class experiment with a variety of styles, studying artists from Andy Warhol to Claude Monet.
“We had an interest inventory where we asked students what would make this program interesting,” Staskiewicz said. “The students said it would be boring if they were sitting at a desk all day, completing worksheets and learning things they already knew.”
Gifted students can become bored in the classroom because much of the work is easy for them, Staskiewicz said. Teachers tend to focus more on the academically challenged students, which makes it difficult for gifted students to maintain attention in class when they already know the material.
Staskiewicz said the graduate students do not have “any grand goals for the end,” but rather hope for the children to leave encouraged and eager to continue learning. The students in the reader’s theater class plan to perform an original plays that will be video-taped by another student interested in digital photography. Students will showcase their accomplishments for family members on Friday.
“I like being able to cater to students who are academically talented,” said graduate student Danielle Baker. “Often these students’ needs or wants don’t get much attention in the regular classroom.”